Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Business of Pleasure, by Edmund Yates, 1879 - Chapter 13 - More of the Grimgribber Rifle Corps - Our New Captain

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[-135-]

CHAPTER XIII.

MORE OF THE GRIMGRIBBER RIFLE CORPS - OUR NEW CAPTAIN.

AUTUMN being, according to the almanacs, close at hand, and many members of our corps feeling bound to absent themselves from the neighbourhood of the metropolis, and to disport in sylvan or sea-side regions, I see some chance of being enabled to get an evening to myself to chronicle our doings since the earliest stages of our formation. Up to this time it has been impossible. I thought that when I had mastered the difficulties of drill my labour would be at an end; that I might once a week lead or rather follow the regiment to our parade-ground; that on the other six days my helmet might have been used as a hive for bees, or any other rustic and pacific receptacle ; that our bugler would "sing truce" as soon as the Saturday night cloud had lowered, and would not call us again to arms for the entire space of a week ; in fact, that so long as we were well up in our manual and platoon, and could put our men through the ordinary evolutions of company and battalion drill, more would not be required of us. I was mistaken-as I often am, and always to my cost. I daresay that, had we remained as we originally formed ourselves, I could have arranged things with Jack Heatly and his brother, and we should have [-136-] restricted our military ambition within proper limits ; but our corps increased so tremendously, so many fresh recruits came flocking to our standard, that we were obliged to form a second company, who, in their turn, elected their officers, and who chose for their captain a gentleman who, from his punctuality, exactitude, and strict, attention to business, seems intended by Nature to supply the place of the late Duke of Wellington in these dominions. He vas elected because he was a pleasant, strong, active young fellow, a good cricketer and oarsman, and such a maniac for dancing that he might have been a male Wili, or a victim to the bite of the tarantula. He was elected, and he thanked us. The next day on parade his true character burst forth He made us a speech, in which he said he had observed with regret that the discipline of the regiment was not such as could be wished. He was aware, he said (glancing at Jack Heatly, who was sitting on a camp-stool smoking a short pipe)-he was aware that we had been somewhat loosely looked after; but that we might depend upon a strict supervision in future. You may be astonished to hear that there were certain men who applauded this harangue; rash young men who talked about "sticking to the thing," and "having no child's play;" but I myself trembled in my varnished gaiters. The next day Jack Heatly took a month's leave of absence and went out of town, and the new captain, De Tite Strongbow, became our commander-in-chief. I shall never forget that day! it was a Saturday, and we had just gone through a series of the most complicated evolutions in a pouring rain; I was in the armoury divesting myself of my soaked uniform and rusted sword, and privately wondering why I had voluntarily exposed myself to so much inconvenience, when the senior sergeant of the regiment presented himself before me. A pleasant man is Sergeant Piper, with a jolly round rubicund face, a merry black eye, and a nose that attests the goodness of the port-wine at the [-137-] "Sternsail and Tiller" on the Essex shore; which hotel he makes his summer residence. But dull was his appearance and solemn his expression as he made his military salute, and, merely saying "From the captain, sir," placed in my hands a large square printed paper. It was headed with the royal arms, and ran as follows:

GRIMGRIBBER RIFLE CORPS.

Arrangements for the week.

MONDAY - Second squad drill, at 2 P.M., by Ensign Rivers.
TUESDAY.- Platoon drill by Ensign Rivers, 2 P. M.
WEDNESDAY. -First instruction in musketry, 7P.M., by Captain Strongbow, assisted by Ensign Rivers.
THURSDAY.-Second squad drill by Ensign Rivers, 2 P.M.
FRIDAY. -Lecture on the dissection of the lock, by Captain Strongbow, assisted by Ensign Rivers, 4 P.M.
SATURDAY.-The regiment will march out for battalion drill on Squash Common. All the officers will attend. Gaiters if wet, but no greatcoats on any account.
    Ensign Rivers is officer of the week; and any gentleman requiring any information on any point must apply to him.

DE TITE STRONGBOW,
Captain Commanding.

I, the present writer, am Ensign Rivers, whose name is so frequently mentioned in this abominable document! I rushed off to Strongbow's rooms - he lives with his father, the eminent drysalter, but has a little outbuilding next the stables especially appropriated to his use. As I near this pavilion I heard strange sounds of stamping, mingled with thwacking of weapons, and cries of "Ha, ha! had you there!" Entering, I found Strongbow stripped to his shirt, and busily engaged in belabouring the corporal, who, wooden as ever, solemnly defended himself with a singlestick. "Hallo!" says Strongbow, "come for more orders, Ensign?" I boil over, I object, I appeal - all in vain. 
    [-138-] "What will the men say when they see their officers shirking duty?" Fruitlessly do I urge that I know nothing of the musketry instruction, or the dissection of the lock; he gives me books - enormous volumes - which he bids me study. For a moment I waver in my allegiance; I have a faint notion of requesting Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to accept my resignation of my commission; but better thoughts prevail, and I go to work. I drill the second squad; I pass a bright afternoon in the dull lecture-room of the Mechanics' Institute, where the Map of Europe glares feebly at me from the damp-stained wall, and where the mullioned windows rattle dismally at the tramping of the recruits. Painfully and wearily do I go through the different evolutions, and tight and gordian-like is the knot into which I once or twice get myself and all the men, and have to summon the stiff corporal to my assistance, amidst furtive grins and whispered hints of "Try back." But I did get through it at last, and next day accomplished the platoon drill, with directions, and in a manner that struck the corporal mute with horror. It has been malevolently remarked that the gentlemen who benefited by my instruction have since been recognisable principally by a habit of invariably carrying their rifles at full cock, and secondly by the slight omission of neglecting to withdraw their ramrods after loading with blank cartridge: a disadvantage which is apt to be unpleasantly felt by their comrades when they are placed as "a rear-rank standing." But this is mere envy.

THE FIRST INSTRUCTION IN MUSKETRY.

It was so called in the Orders for the week, because it is rather a fine phrase. I believe, however, that the real technical unvarnished name of this performance is "Preliminary Drill for cleaning Arms." A select class attended Captain Strongbow's first instruction-lecture on the Wednes-[-139-]day evening; but I shall better be able to give an account of their proceedings by adopting the dramatic form.

SCENE - Captain Strongbow's rooms. Evening. Moderator-lamp alight in centre. Captain Strongbow at head of table; a long Enfield Rifle and two very ominous-looking red books by his side. Privates and sergeants of the corps gathered round him. Ensign Rivers standing immediately behind the Captain, where he has the least chance of being seen by him, and looking doubtfully on. The opening portion of the lecture has already been given.

Captain Strongbow (proceeding). Now, gentlemen, I will once more run through what I have said, before questioning you. Now, gentlemen, the principal parts of the rifle are the stock and the barrel. (He takes up rifle, and points to each part as he names it.) The stock is divided into the nose-cap, the upper, middle, and lower bands, the swell, projections, lock-side, head, small, trigger-guard, trigger-plate, trigger, butt, and heel-plate. Once more (He repeats all the names.) Now, Mr. Lobjoit, what is this called? (Laying his hand on the nose-cap.)
   
Lobjoit (who is a horsey man, and is always wishing we were cavalry). Nose-bag!
   
Capt. S. (disgusted). What do you say, Mr. Pruffle?
   
Pruffle (a slow, middle-aged gentleman, who has entered the force with the sole object of learning how to defend his large family). Night-cap!
   
Capt. S. (more disgusted). Now, Mr. Skull, what is it?
   
Skull (looking blankly at it through his spectacles). 'Pon my soul, I don't know!
   
Capt. S. (profoundly disgusted). Really, this is too bad! Is there no gentleman present who can remember what this is called?
   
Sergeant Fluke. Eh? of course ; yes I I can ! It's the [-140-] - the - the nose-cap, of course ! (Aside, to next neighbour) Gad! what a good shot!
   
Capt. S. (overjoyed). Very good; very good indeed, Sergeant Fluke! Ensign Rivers, I must trust to your honour not to prompt the gentlemen!
   
Ensign R. You may rely upon my doing nothing of the sort, sir (NB.--This is strictly correct, as Ensign Rivers knows rather less about it than anyone in the room.)
   
Capt. S. Now, Sergeant Fluke, can you touch any other parts of the stock, and tell me their names?
   
Fluke. Oh yes, of course! (Glibly.) This is the barrel, and - 
    Capt. S.
Parts of the stock, I said. The stock and the barrel are two distinct things.
   
Private J.Miller (the funny man of the corps - aside to his neighbour). Not at a cooper's or a brewer's; there, the barrels constitute the stock!
   
Private Miller's neighbour (derisively). Oh! ho! ain't you funny!
   
Capt. S. Silence, gentlemen, pray! Now, Sergeant Fluke?
   
Fluke. Well, you know, this is the trigger, and this is the butt.
   
Capt. S. Which is the heel of the butt, Mr. Pruffle?
   
Pruffle (touching the wrong end). This, sir.
   
Capt. S. No, no! that's not the heel ; that's the toe!
   
Private Miller. Heel and toe! I say, Pruffle, my pimpkin, which is the double-shuffle ?
   
Capt. S. Mr. Miller, I shall be compelled to call upon you to retire, if you persist in this buffoonery! (Private Miller makes a grimace of preternatural ugliness behind his neighbour's back, hums the Dead March in Saul, and crosses his hands to simulate a handcuffed deserter about to be shot.)
   
[-141-]  Capt. S. Now, then, let us take the barrel.
   
Private Miller-. Ah I some of us have taken to that kindly.
   
Capt. S. Taken to what?
   
Miller. To the barrel, sir! Don't mind me. Go on!
   
Capt. S. (touching them). The muzzle, foresight, back or elevating sight, nipple, breech, breech-pin. Component parts of the breech-pin : face, tang, and breech nail-hole. What are the component parts of the breech-pin, Mr. Lobjoit?
   
Lobjoit (rapidly). Face, fangs, and breeches-nails!
   
Capt. S. (in despair). This is dreadful! I don't know what they'd say to you at Hythe!
   
Miller. He'll never go there, sir; no more shall I. I say, Lobjoit, old boy, fancy their catching us playing at Hythe among the Sikhs.
   
Capt. S. (with dignity). I shall leave you out of the course, Mr. Miller! (Miller feigns to weep, and dry his eyes on the back of his hand.) Now, once more, before I give up. The component parts of the back or elevating sight are the flanges, flap, slider, spring, and bed. Name them, Mr. Skull.
   
Skull (yawning). The principal part of the back-sight is the spring-bed.
   
Capt. S. (rising in disgust). No more at present!
(Exeunt all but Strongbow, who sits up half  the night studying the theory of trajectories.)

THE PRESENTATION OF OUR BUGLE.

We had attended the Wimbledon meeting and the Chislehurst sham-fight, and had covered ourselves with glory at both; but there was nothing to look forward to, and the perpetual platoon exercise and theoretical musketry instruction began to grow monotonous. The attendance [-142-] of men was a trifle falling off; and I had suggested to Captain Strongbow that he should hurry on the preparation of our butts, and get us out to "judging distances" and firing with ball-cartridge as speedily as possible, when we received intimation of an approaching event which brought back all those who were beginning to lapse. When our numbers increased, and we grew too large for the Mechanics' Institute or Toddler's Yard, we looked about for some suitable drill-ground; but there was no place to be had, and we were in despair, when the principal of Dulciss's Crimgribber College, hearing of our extremity, came forward in the kindest manner and placed the grounds of that establishment at our disposal. Dulciss's College is not, as you may probably imagine, a scholastic institution for young gentlemen; it is a retreat, a refuge, a harbour for elderly gentlemen who have been broken and buffeted by the tempests of the world a roadstead where they may ride safely at anchor for the remainder of their lives, comfortably housed and tended, and provided with a small income to supply themselves with necessaries. The only qualifications for candidates are, that they shall have been born in Grimgribber, shall have exceeded sixty years of age, and shall be without pecuniary resources. It is not difficult to find many who can fulfil these requirements, and the college is always full ; there, slowly pacing up and down the shady cloisters, or sitting sunning themselves on the worm-eaten old benches outside the porch, are the old fellows constantly to be seen, wearing their old black cloaks and queer shovel-hats as decreed by the founder, old Sir Thomas Dulciss, who died two hundred years ago. Attached to their prettily-terraced garden is a fine open meadow of several acres; but the old collegians rarely stroll so far; and when, under the permission of the principal, we held our first drill therein, none of them even came out to look at us, or took the trouble to inquire what we were doing. But a little later, on a fine spring day, [-143-] they came down in a knot and stood close by, watching our movements; and as the words of command rang out, two or three of them, evidently old soldiers, straightened their poor bent backs and cocked their shovel-hats with the ghost of a military swagger; and one, a very old man, hobbled back to the college, whence he returned with his black cloak thrown very much back, and a Waterloo medal gleaming on his brave old breast. When drill was over, we gave him a cheer that brought the fire into his dim eyes and the flush into his withered cheeks. Then Mrs. Principal, a benevolent old lady, and the two Miss Principals, very dashing girls, got in the habit of coming to watch us; and the Miss Principals brought their friends, and the friends brought their cavaliers ; so that at last we used to exhibit before quite a bevy of spectators. One day Sir Gregory Dulciss, the present representative of the great family, was at the college on business; and bearing of this, we formed on the terrace and saluted the great man, presenting arms to him as he came out. Sir Gregory was greatly touched at this, called it audibly a "dayvlish" gratifying mark of 'tention, made us several bows modelled on those of his great friend, the late King George the Fourth, and hoped to meet us again. And a few days afterwards it was officially announced that Lady Dulciss intended presenting us with a silver bugle.
    This it was that caused the new excitement this it was that brought up the few laggards, and caused the many who had hitherto been indefatigable to show even greater attention. It was determined that we should have a great day; it was understood that a select company would come over from the Radishes, Sir Gregory's house ; that the neighbourhood generally would attend; and there was to be a tent with a cold collation for the corps, while the officers were invited to a champagne luncheon at the. principal's. Such furbishing-up of arms and accoutrements, such worrying of tailors and armourers, such private drill [-144-] among the men, and such minute inquiries among the officers as to the exact meaning of "recover swords!"
    The day arrived and the hour. Headed by our band (their first appearance in public-rather nervous and shaky, a trifle agitated in the trombone, and a thought Punch-and-Judyish about the big drum, but still playing capitally), we marched through the village and into the field. The profane vulgar were not allowed to come inside, but they clustered thickly round the gates and swarmed about the palings like bees. Very good and searching were the remarks of the boys. "Walk up! walk up! just agoin' to begin!" shouts one, as the band passed. " Hooray for the Workus Corps!" says another, in allusion to our neat gray uniform. "Here's the pauper lunatics with their throats cut!" says a third, hinting at the red stripe on our collars. "Hallo, Bill," says a boy perched on the gate, "here's your huncle!" "I see him," responds Bill, a grimy-faced cynical young blacksmith - "I see him, but I never takes no notice on him when he's with his Wolunteers!" And we passed on into the field. The white tent glimmered in the sun, and the ground was covered with company. The Dulciss people had brought some great acquaintances with them, country grandees in their carriages, dashing girls on horseback, and three or four young Guards' officers who came to scoff; and remained to prey-upon the luncheon. To pass this lot was the great ordeal. "Keep up, rear rank!" "Steady in the centre!" "Touch to the left, Jenkins; where the deuce are you going to?" The first and second companies went by splendidly. "Weally, not so bad, now, for quill-drivers and mechanics," says young Lithpson of the Bombardiers to Jack Gorget of the Body Guards, mauve. Jack nods approvingly; then, as the third company advances, headed by Tom Exlex, who was in the Spanish service under General Evans, and wears his Sebastian medal and San Fernando cross on his breast, Jack says earnestly, [-145-] though ungrammatically " Hallo, what's this swell's decorations?" "'Pon my soul, I can't say," answers Lithpson "pwobably some weward for supewiour penmanship."
    But we could afford to laugh even at such bitter sarcasm as this, so well were our evolutions performed, and so heartily were they applauded. Finally we were drawn up in line, and, amidst the cheers of the populace, Lady Dulciss advanced, followed by a portentous servant bearing the bugle on a cushion. Lady Dulciss is a very fine woman: a kind, benevolent, motherly-looking lady, and I've no doubt she made an excellent speech. It was intended for the entire regiment, but she delivered it in a confidential tone to Jack Heatly, who stood in front of her, and all we caught was Britannia, "bugle," " Grimgribber," and "call to arms." Then she presented the bugle gracefully to Jack, who, in his intense nervousness, instantly dropped it, and she and he and Sir Gregory and the portentous footman all struggled for it on the ground. Then the band played "God save the Queen," the people cheered louder than ever, and we broke off and went in to lunch.